Tag Archives: Samuel L. Jackson

Quentin Tarantino’s JACKIE BROWN

Following the cinema changing smash of PULP FICTION, marking the first and last time (so far) in his career, Quentin Tarantino adapted a property by someone else By adapting Elmore Leonard, Tarantino made the story and his characters his own, by using a set story and characters, he populates each character with his hallmark casting and colors in Leonard’s dialogue with his own Tarantinoisms. JACKIE BROWN has long been hailed Tarantino’s most “mature” work, and in a sense, that is a more than a fair assessment.

Tarantino’s cast is rather remarkable in this picture. He changes the name and skin color of Leonard’s heroine by casting Pam Grier in her finest role that acts as both a callback continuation of some of her most seminal 70s characters and an empowering role of fierce feminism. Robert Forster, another mainstay of forgotten roles in cinema gets cast in one of Tarantino’s best characters, Max Cherry, the stoic bail bondsman who assists in Grier’s caper.

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Michael Keaton and Robert De Niro are magnificent in meaty roles that act as respective undercards in their rich canon of characters; it truly is a shame that Tarantino never worked with Keaton and De Niro again, because he gets unique performances out of them, that is tremendously underrated. And of course, Samuel L. Jackson gets a very Sam Jackson role, and he is such a magnificent son of a bitch to watch in the film. Bridget Fonda has never been better or sexier.

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Tarantino crafts a film populated with older actors, giving us a pulpy crime caper, where the action is moved forward by dialogueless characters, Forster and De Niro’s total dialogue probably would take up three pages in the screenplay, through their reactions, stares, and movements very much move the film along. The cunning screenplay foregoes Tarantino’s violent nature, through the guise of character progression.

Tarantino’s love for the dangerous and sexy heroine is on full display in this film. Pam Grier’s take on the role that she’ll more than likely be remembered for is phenomenal, and she shifts back and forth between manipulating the bad men in the film and falling for her sidekick, Forster.

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The reason this film is deemed Tarantino’s most mature is that the film laminates stoicism through Grier and Forster. The film is about living with mistakes, living long enough to know your limitations, and how to survive. All these characters have lived a life of struggle and hardship well before the cameras start rolling. The film builds up and cascades into an emotional moment between two genre actors that get dropped into a mainstream, highly polished film and that is such a beautiful thing.

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Mind At War: Nate’s Top Ten Films on Mental Illness

The subject of mental illness is one that’s close and important to me as I myself am one of the afflicted, and it’s impossible to ignore that the treatment of it by Hollywood, particularly in formative years, hasn’t been so apt. Don’t get me wrong, I love stuff like Me, Myself & Irene or Split as entertainment but in terms of accurately representing the conditions that beset human beings, they haven’t been so hot. There are those films and filmmakers out there that strive to educate and enlighten or even just to craft an effective thriller or comedy and still stay true to real life, doing important work for the collective awareness and making terrific art/entertainment in one shot. Here are my personal top ten favourites!

10. Geoffrey Sax’s Frankie & Alice

Multiple personality disorders are popular in Hollywood but there’s a tendency to mock, sensationalize or tell a ‘real life’ story that’s later proved as fraud. This one showcases Halle Berry in a galvanizing dual performance as a go-go dancer afflicted by two very different internal identities and finding her life in splinters as a result. When a kind, compassionate psychiatrist (Stellan Skarsgard) makes it his mission to help her get back on track it becomes apparent just how challenging and horrific it must be to endure such a thing.

9. Dito Montiel’s Man Down

I heard this one sold one single theatrical ticket in the UK and didn’t fare much better here, getting squeaked into a quiet streaming release. It’s too bad because it is one haunting drama about PTSD featuring an implosive, incredibly intense performance from Shia LaBeouf as an ex marine who can’t psychologically reconcile his experience and is lost amongst his own trauma. Terrific work from Kate Mara as his wife and Gary Oldman as an army counsellor too.

8. James Mangold’s Girl Interrupted

Likely the most accessible and mainstream story on this list, Mangold’s look at a mental care facility for girls in the 60’s gets a superficial rep in some circles but I find it to be every bit the rewarding drama, ensemble piece and explorative journey that those who champion it say. Winona Ryder plays a wayward girl whose self destructive behaviour lands her there but it’s Angelina Jolie as a fellow patient diagnosed with borderline personality disorder that both anchors the film and provides it with a wildly unpredictable streak.

7. Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island

This is of course a big old elaborate mystery film with a gigantic cast, many red herrings, tons of subplots and all kinds of stylistic fanfare. But if you look past all that there’s a harrowing and very realistic portrait of minds irreparably damaged, between Leo Dicaprio’s PTSD afflicted ex soldier and Michelle Williams in a haunting turn as his deeply sick wife. The film overall is a tantalizing guessing game and broadly covers the thriller board but the final act brings it right down to earth for a grounded, grim finale showcasing the brutal honesty of these illnesses and the heart wrenching tragedy they beget.

6. Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King

Robin Williams gives one of his best performances as Parry, a once successful professor of medieval history who lost his mind following the death of his wife and now wanders the streets of NYC, homeless. Jeff Bridges is the radio DJ who befriends and tries to understand him and their relationship carries the film. So to does Gilliam’s knack for surreal visual storytelling, letting these fantastical creations run wild and giving us a glimpse into Parry’s damaged but fascinating mind.

5. Brad Anderson’s The Machinist

Christian Bale’s Trevor Reznik hasn’t slept in a year. Guilt, extreme weight loss and delusions are just the start of his problems. This is billed as and feels like a thriller but I think that’s deliberate on director Anderson’s part to put us in the hot seat next to Trevor, to make us feel the same paranoia and delusions of persecution he does. The atmosphere here is almost suffocating, the score a muted tangle of busted nerves and Bale’s performance something just this side of unearthly. When it all comes together and we see why he is the way he is it’s deeply sad but makes a kind of terrible sense and gives the film a final stab of emotional weight.

4. Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace

PTSD is only vaguely hinted at in this beautiful father daughter drama but it’s there in every frame, in every mannerism of Ben Fosters masterful performance. Him and newcomer Thomasin Mackenzie achingly display a family dynamic that has been set off balance by his illness, and the wedge it has driven both between them and between him and ever living a normal life again. This is a restrained yet heartbreaking film that gently unpacks its themes with kindness and compassion, letting a devastating final scene bring the whole point home heavily but somehow lightly in the same note.

3. David Cronenberg’s Spider

Ralph Fiennes give a focused, intense turn as the titular individual, a man released from a mental care facility and relegated to a London halfway house where all the scrambled and tumultuous memories of his past come tumbling down through the scattered web of his broken mind and into the present. Recollections of his parents (Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson) are somehow shrouded from himself, by himself and as he tirelessly works to regain his sanity, he slips further away from it. Cronenberg uses shadows, dimly lit alleys and creaky, barren rooms to show how this character has been cast away from his own perception and wanders about like a lost soul.

2. Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy

The life and times of Beach Boys pioneer Brian Wilson are explored here, namely at two important junctures in his life. Paul Dano plays him younger, at the height of fame and success but poised on the cusp of a psychotic breakdown after stress and an unhealthy relationship with his abusive father (Bill Camp) reach a fever pitch. Decades later John Cusack embodies a much older Wilson, stuck under the tyrannical yoke of an evil, manipulative psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti) until he meets the love of his life (Elizabeth Banks) and a chance at a fresh start along with her. The scene of Dano putting recording headphones over his ears and closing his eyes in horror as he hears voices is one of the most brutally honest and realistic depictions of auditory hallucinations you can find in film. Wilson had a rough life and the film makes that very clear but it’s never ever sensationalist or exploitive and overall has a message about love, light and working endlessly to overcome any demons or struggles thrown into your path.

1. Kasi Lemmons’ The Caveman’s Valentine

Samuel L. Jackson gives a career best as schizophrenic former musician Romulus, a man afflicted by terrible hallucinations and delusions to the point that when he discovers a genuine murder conspiracy no one, including his police officer daughter (Aunjanue Ellis) believes him. This film is driven by a fascinating mystery narrative that takes Romulus from his cave in Central Park into the pretentious New York art world and beyond to find a killer. At heart though director Lemmons let’s it m be a serious minded exploration of what it must be like to live like that, to be constantly sabotaged by your own mind. Jackson’s brilliant performance and Lemmons effective use of surreal, mesmerizing imagery give us a compassionate, dynamic window into this man’s mind and in turn a unique, thought provoking piece of cinema.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more content!

-Nate Hill

Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown

Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown runs right around two and a half hours, and if you were to go through the film and separate all the scenes that are directly about the central plot specifics from the ones that are simply characters hanging out, shooting the shit and socializing, you’d probably cut the film in half. There’s a lesson I was taught in film school and it goes something like “every scene in the script must serve/move the plot and anything that doesn’t must go.” Well, I get the creative sentiment there but it’s often much more complicated than that, and often very subjective what one person will distill personally from a scene and use for their appreciation of the story overall versus another person being bored by it. In the case of Jackie Brown, I absolutely loved each and every laidback scene of breezy character development. These people start talking about movies, weed, cars, guns, the city or anything offhand and slowly, gradually they shift into what the story is about, which is the genius of Tarantino’s screenplay, an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch.

As the titular Jackie Brown, Pam Grier gives the performance of her career as a desperate middle aged career woman trying to score a little extra loot for herself, and getting trapped between a rock and a hard place in the process. She smuggles cash in from Mexico for low rent arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), a fast talking psychopath who enlists his newly released ex con pal Louis (Robert De Niro) into helping him out with the latest gig. Also involved is Ordell’s beach bunny stoner girlfriend Melanie (Bridget Fonda), a low level thug on his payroll (Chris Tucker) and stoic, sad eyed bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster). All these players shuffle around the LA chessboard, often lazily and in no rush and it’s these scenes that give the film its lifeblood. Jackie and Max find compassion, solace and bittersweet romance together, Tarantino let’s them circle each other in no great hurry and later in the film when they do share a kiss it’s just the most beautiful, well built up moment. Grier comes from a blaxploitation background and it’s apparent in her performance, but we also get the sense that this operates on a real plane, much more so than many other Tarantino films. Forster is always noble, observant and calm in most of his career, there’s a few obscure manic performances from him out there but for the most part he underplays his work. Max has to be his best creation, a steely journeyman dude who’s seen enough and wants something new in his life, something he finds in Jackie as he falls in love with her literally at first sight.

This is a character piece, and in addition to Grier and Forster we get incredibly vivid, funny and idiosyncratic work from all involved. Jackson is hysterical as the most verbose cat of the bunch, he’s also scarier than Jules in Pulp Fiction too. DeNiro plays Louis as a dim-headed fuck-up who seems to be playing dumb to stealth people, then seems to actually be thick again until we’re just not sure right up until the hilarious last few beats of his arc that result in some of the funniest black comedy I’ve ever seen. Fonda let’s a stoned veneer hide a deep resentment and hatred for pretty much everyone around her until she takes it one step too far and pays for it hilariously. Michael Keaton and Michael Bowen show up doing a flawless good cop bad cop routine as a local Detective and an ATF agent on both Jackie’s and Ordell’s trail. Watch for Lisa Gay Hamilton, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister and genre veteran Sid Haig as well.

I get conflicted when ranking this amongst other Tarantino films because he’s adapting someone else’s work and therefore it’s not purely his creation, which is always when his most energetic and inspired stuff happens. Jackie Brown is a masterpiece and one of my favourite films, no doubt. But it’s Tarantino doing something else, chilling out in the pool and letting this cast of characters hang out too, in bars, beach apartments, cars, cluttered offices, malls and airports. There’s no great momentum or surge behind this story, it’s all very laconic and easy breezy, which is the strongest quality. But it just as much feels like a Leonard story as it does Tarantino, which works too. His crazy, wild style and pop culture obsessions are given a modest track to race around because of Leonard’s low key, slow burn dialogue aesthetic and the resulting flavour is so good it’s almost perfect. But it’s not just Quentin at the helm. Whatever your thoughts on that and comparisons with this film next to the ones he’s both written and directed, there’s no arguing that this is a beautiful, hilarious, touching, suspenseful, romantic classic of the crime genre.

-Nate Hill

Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill

Many adaptations of John Grisham’s work have shown up in Hollywood, some great and others not so much, but for my money it doesn’t get any better than Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill. There’s something fired up about this story, a heartfelt and desperate aura to the high stakes moral maelstrom that Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey find themselves in here. Jackson is Carl Lee Hailey, husband and father in America’s Deep South who opens up an AK-47 on the two redneck crackers who raped his eight year old daughter and left her for dead on the side of the road. McConaughey is Jake Brigance, the slick attorney hired to defend him who first seeks the limelight, then wishes he didn’t and finally becomes so morally invested in Carl’s case that it begins to unravel both his own life, not to mention stir up racial tensions all over the county.

Was Carl justified in these murders, given the situation? Should he be set free? Will the trial be a fair, civilized event given the fact that he’s a black man from the south in a time where they were not treated justly or as equals? The answer to that third question is definitely not because soon the Klan gets involved, the entire judiciary system itself gets put on trial and the whole state erupts in hot blooded anger over the situation. Jackson is fierce and vulnerable in the role, Never defaulting to the trademark detached, noisy brimstone that has become his thing but letting the hurt and righteous fury emanate from within organically, it’s probably his best work. McConaughey gets the sweaty desperation right and you begin to feel the uncomfortable nature of the situation creeping up on him until before he knows it there’s a burning cross on his lawn and his wife (Ashley Judd) is ready to leave him. Sandra Bullock does fine work as his legal assistants who, being an idealist, works for free because she believes in the cause rather than money or notoriety, the latter of which she receives whether she likes it or not. Kevin Spacey lays on the sleazy attitude as the loudmouth prosecuting lawyer who, naturally, hits below the belt in his tactics. An unbelievable roster of supporting talent shows up including Chris Cooper, Kiefer Sutherland, Brenda Fricker, Oliver Platt, Kurtwood Smith, M. Emmett Walsh, Anthony Heald, Charles Dutton, Raéven Kelly, Patrick McGoohan, Nicky Katt, Doug Hutchison, Beth Grant, Octavia Spencer and Donald Sutherland as a charismatic old alcoholic lawyer who serves as Jake’s mentor and voice of reason.

This film can sort of be used as a barometer to measure moral dilemmas and see through the weak spots of the justice system, of which there are many. Were Carl’s murders justified? I think so, given the heinous nature of the crimes against his daughter. But the ensuing racial turmoil, petty battle of legal wills and outside-the-courtroom power struggle sort of clouds that until the film reaches a barbaric fever pitch of violence and terror, until Jake calmly and directly cuts through all of that and turns the mirror on a whole community with his heartbreaking final address to the jury, after which it’s so dead silent you could hear a pin drop. It’s a bold, fantastic piece of acting from McConaughey and some of his best work also, in a brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Phillip Noyce and Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan: Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan has had a few iterations over the decades, the last two of which were sadly lukewarm efforts, but for my money Harrison Ford and Philip Noyce gave the best version with the explosive double feature of Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger. Star studded across the board, gifted with long runtimes, huge budgets and intelligent scripts, these are two enduring espionage films that I always have a place for on my DVD shelf and always tune in to if I come across them on TV. Ford is a heroic presence in cinema, and although his actions as Ryan are violently intrepid, he gives the character an unsure edge and resounding vulnerability that is always compelling and offsets the intrigue as great character work. This guy is an analyst after all, not a field agent and the portrayal should reflect that.

Patriot Games kicks off with Ryan in a brutal personal war against a rogue faction of the IRA, a tense conflict that reaps collateral damage on both sides. The two constant characters who ground both Ford and Ryan are his boss and mentor Greer (James Earl Jones) and his wife Cathy (Anne Archer), they keep him humble, human and sympathetic amongst all the chaos and political intrigue. Sean Bean is scary good here as Miller, renegade Irish operative whose plans are foiled early on by Jack, prompting him to swear bloody revenge on his whole family in a courtroom scene that is as chilling as Bean has ever been. Paranoia sets in as countless attempts are made against his and his families life, and even reassuring words from an IRA honcho (Richard Harris) who denounces Miller can’t set Ryan at ease. Only the eventual confrontation puts an end to it, which we get in a spectacular nocturnal speedboat chase across a Maryland harbour. The talent includes Thora Birch as Jack’s daughter, J.E. Freeman, Patrick Bergin, James Fox, Polly Walker, Bob Gunton and a young Samuel L. Jackson.

Clear & Present Danger sees the headstrong US President (Donald Moffat, never one to not devour dialogue like a good steak) declares war on marauding cartels from South America, another conflict that Ryan gets thrown into headlong both on location and back on the home front. Their leader (Miguel Sandoval) is a hotheaded moron, but the real danger lurks in Felix Cortez (Joaquim De Almeida, a spectacularly nasty villain), advisor, assassin and deadly power behind the throne who has ideas of his own. This entry is slightly more epic and action centric but the homeland espionage is played up too, particularly in the corrupt actions of two impossibly sleazy suits back in Washington played by Henry Czerny and Harris Yulin. They are so good in their roles they almost steal the film, especially Czerny as the ultimate prick and absolute last person you’d want making decisions for their country. Ford is less seething than he was in the very personal conflict of Patriot Games, but no less resourceful and violent when he needs to be. Willem Dafoe fills the boots of John Clark, a Clancy staple character and ruthless tactical agent who sometimes functions as a one man army. Further work is provided by Benjamin Bratt, Raymond Cruz, Dean Jones, Ann Magnuson, Patrick Bauchau and Hope Lange.

These two are not only great action spy films but to me represent an oasis of 90’s filmmaking that has never been replicated. Enormous casts, every dollar of the budget onscreen, timeless original scores (courtesy of James Horner here), vivid action set pieces, equal parts focus on story and action, no CGI in sight, character development and all round consistency in craft and production. I grew up with these two classics, watched them countless times with my dad and will always tune right back in whenever they’re around.

-Nate Hill

Bob Rafelson’s No Good Deed

It’s kind of rare for rambunctious actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Milla Jovovich to sit still for something as dramatic and dialogue heavy as Bob Rafelson’s No Good Deed, but it’s nice to see. This is a thriller of sorts, but it’s more low key than that and ends up being a chamber piece about two characters getting to know each other that just happens to take place against a criminal backdrop. Jackson plays a police detective on a routine investigation who turns up at the wrong place at the wrong time and gets drawn into a weird bunch of felons all hiding out and planning a bank job. Stellan Skarsgard is Tyrone, their volatile, violent leader, Jovovich is his quiet but intuitive and underestimated girlfriend, left alone to watch Jackson, now their hostage. This leaves acres of script space for Milla and Samuel to play, manipulate each other, bicker, banter, become close and twist the situation to both their ends while gradually catching feels for each other. It’s interesting that Rafelson casts these two because they’re usually to be found in action heavy stuff, shooting guns, swinging swords and tasked with stylized dialogue. Here they are laid back, oddly but nicely paired and the most quiet I’ve ever seen them, and it… kind of works. Skarsgard is mean and nasty, which he’s always been great at, journeyman oddball Doug Hutchison plays another lowlife in their gang, while Joss Ackland and Grace ‘Sarah Palmer’ Zabriskie play the senior faction of the crew, a strange husband wife duo who can still wield a shotgun when the situation calls for it. This is based on a Dashiell Hammett story which probably means it was sitting in someone’s desk drawer for decades before being found and reworked for this century. Rafelson gives it the pacing of something by Elmore Leonard and eccentricities to spare. It’s not a super memorable thing or a great film by any standards but works well enough as a sleepy, romantic crime thriller. Oh yeah, this is the legendary Rafelson’s final feature film before apparent retirement, so it’s worth checking out for that reason too.

-Nate Hill

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction

You ever been to one of those house parties that turns out so well, is so full of awesome, entertaining people and so much fun that you kind of wish it wouldn’t end? Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is like that, for nearly three hours you wish would extend into three more. It’s one of those urban mosaic stories that chucks slices of life into a pan, fries them up and hurls the resulting delicious recipe right at your face. I’ve read a lot about how this revolutionized narrative structure in Hollywood or changed the way characters are written and that may be the case for the crime genre, but the mosaic motif was present in many areas before QT, namely in the films of Robert Altman, a filmmaker I’ve never seen compared to our Quentin before but the parallels are there. In any case everyone knows, loves and agrees that Pulp Fiction is a fucking badass flick, an enduring barnstormer of outlaw cinema that is every bit as potent, catchy and kinetic as it was when it blew the pants and panties off of Cannes in ‘94.

Tarantino gave us an appetizer with Reservoir Dogs, and with Pulp he produced a ten course meal that’s more polished, structured and assured than we had seen before. His mosaic concerns the lives of several LA individuals all directly or indirectly related to the criminal underworld. Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta are two hitmen who dressed like Men In Black before Men In Black was a thing, out to retrieve the ever mysterious briefcase for their omnipotent gangster overlord (Ving Rhames), whose sultry wife (Uma Thurman) Travolta is to entertain while the big man is out of town. Elsewhere a disloyal prizefighter (Bruce Willis) and his bubbly girlfriend (Maria De Medeiros) hide out from Rhames’s wrath too until Willis goes from the frying pan into one terrifying fire. Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer are two liquor store bandits who branch off into the diner scene and royally fuck up everyone’s day in the process. Christopher Walken gives arguably his greatest and definitely his most bizarre monologue in a scene out of place and time from the rest of the film but somehow right where it needs to be in the narrative. Harvey Keitel suaves it up as LA’s resident 007. Others make vivid impressions in the mosaic including Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Steve Buscemi, Paul Calderon, Frank Whaley, Angela Jones, Duane Whitaker, Stephen Hibbert, Tarantino himself, Julia Sweeney and perennial bad guy Peter Greene.

By now the story is secondary to those iconic moments we all know and love. Zed’s dead. Samuel’s terrifying bible session. A wristwatch up Walken’s ass. Pride only hurts, it never helps. That needle to the heart. The dance competition. The Gimp. The exploding head. These are all now hallmarks of one of the greatest stories ever put to film. What makes it so great? Tarantino has the time for his characters, and wants to converse with them. The dialogue isn’t just about plot or characters intimidating each other. It’s about life, music, personal taste, culture and cheeseburgers. These are people who remind us of many others we know, and the relatability is what has turned this into a platinum classic. That and other factors, including a killer soundtrack, brilliant performances round the board and editing that brings LA out of the gloss, down to earth and just as dirty. It may not be my ultimate fave Tarantino film, but it is definitely his flagship outing so far, in its epic scope. We’ll see if this year’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood perhaps dethrones it as his magnum opus, who knows. Either way it’s a masterpiece and will remain so for all time.

-Nate Hill